For an exhibition titled “The Seventh Side of the Die,” Emily Lessard designed an anthology of artists’ writings printed in a newspaper format. Each headline in the paper is surrounded by a combination of formal elements, such as lines, x’s, and s’s, that appear to have an expressive significance beyond their visual function. And they actually do: Though the casual observer wouldn’t notice it, each combination represents the number 7.
Her technique of creating graphic systems and aesthetic experiments that have their own internal logic is typical of Lessard: “I like figuring out all the rules, and then figuring out where I can interject myself into those rules.” She uses her panoply of design skills to create a rigorously thought-out yet playful visual language. Thus, for Socrates Sculpture Park, a catalog showcasing the artwork in an outdoor exhibition space, her subtle design scheme relates the atmospheric colors in the photographs to those of the pages themselves.
Lessard designed the catalog in collaboration with Barbara Glauber, founder and creative director of the New York–based studio Heavy Meta, where Lessard has worked since June 2005. A measure of her indefatigable work ethic is that she started there just three weeks after graduating from Yale’s MFA program in graphic design. Glauber taught her during the first year of the three-year curriculum, and Lessard observes that working post-academy with her former instructor is “really continuing school in the best possible way—having a one-on-one with someone who can teach you every day.”
At the studio, Lessard has contributed to the design of 10 books—including several art monographs and The Dog Dialed 911, an anthology of outrageous content (obtained from The Smoking Gun website) and witty iconography (designed by Heavy Meta). She co-designed with Glauber the exhibition “New York Divided: Slavery and the Civil War,” which debuted in late November at the New-York Historical Society. The design engages the featured material within a respectful and vibrant framework that contains, as one might expect, an underlying system. The custom-made typefaces for the exhibition, for instance, are inspired by 19th-century newspaper typography and vernacular material, including stencils on shipping crates.
Lessard has no qualms about tackling controversial issues: She is a firm believer in design’s ability to affect political consciousness. While a student at Yale, she created and posted silk-screened broadsheets critiquing the Bush presidency. Lessard didn’t include an authorial attribution on these posters, because she felt that the message itself was the essential content. “It’s not important that it’s my voice,” she says. “There’s something about anonymous expression that I gravitate toward.” Of designing projects that have a political message, she notes, “I will keep reminding myself that this is an important part of how I want to spend my time working.”